The fishtail palm, known botanically as Caryota, is a member of the Arecaceae family. The genus includes 13 species that are notable for having fishtail-shaped, divided leaves. These palms are native to Asia and the South Pacific, and are also cultivated as garden plants in other parts of the world.
These types of palms are fast-growing, and range in height from 20 feet (6.096 meters) to 50 feet (15.24 meters). The smooth, gray palm trunk is cylindrical and ringed, and gives rise to palm leaves at regularly spaced intervals. The leaves grow in a thick bunch at the top.
The fishtail palm trees begin flowering once they have reached their full height, and then they flower continuously for several years. The flowers are produced in a cluster of three, consisting of one reddish male flower and two greenish female flowers, and these clusters occur on thick bunches of long, hanging, braid-like cords. Flowering begins at the tree summit and then works its way downward to the bottom of the trunk. Once the flowering has reached the bottom level, the fishtail palm dies, and new palms arise from the suckers at the base.
The fishtail palm fruits are round and green in color when they develop; they turn reddish-black as they ripen. The presence of calcium oxalate in the fruit can cause severe stinging if it comes in contact with the skin, so it is important to maintain care when handling the fruit; the trunk also contains the stinging chemicals. The fruit seeds are hard and are used to make beads. Strong fibers derived from the leaf stalk sheaths are used to make ropes, fishing lines, brooms and baskets.
The fishtail palm tree trunk is tapped for its sap, which is used to make sweet jaggery and palm wine. Starch from the trunk interior can be used to make an edible gruel and to make bread. The hard and durable wood of these palm trees can be used to make furniture and for various building purposes.
Fishtail palms are easy to grow and maintain, and these factors, in addition to their attractive appearance, explain their enduring appeal as garden and landscape plants. They are used as stand alone trees or they may be planted in clumps as a screen. The trees can grow in acidic soils as well as alkaline soils. Some fishtail palms need to be planted in areas that receive full sun, while other varieties can do well in areas of partial shade. These palm trees have moderate water requirements.